Lost his Voice: Albanese retreats as rivals move on Indigenous policy

Albanese faces hostile questioning over Voice failure

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese refused to say what he would do for Indigenous policies on Monday following the crushing defeat of the Voice to Parliament referendum.

Asked in question time if he still backed a campaign promise to reach a treaty with Indigenous Australians or establish a Makarrata truth and reconciliation commission, Albanese declined to answer.

“Makarrata is simply a Yolngu word for coming together after struggle,” he said.

“I think it’s a good thing that people come together.”

Parliament’s return after a long break and the devastating defeat of the referendum showed Albanese was in a bind as he tried to change the conversation away from an issue at the core of his political identity.

To account for the Voice’s defeat on Saturday, after a campaign some insiders have said was undermined by overconfidence, the Prime Minister took aim at Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.

“He doesn’t recognise conviction when he sees it,” Albanese said.

Dutton had himself walked away from a promise to hold a second referendum on constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians if the Voice was rejected.

PM deflects questions

But it was the PM deflected later questions on Indigenous issues by saying he was keeping silent to honour the week of mourning declared by some Indigenous activists after Saturday’s loss – or he simply waffled.

“We will address [the issues raised during the referendum campaign] with hope in our heart and with faith in each other and with kindness towards one another,” he said.

“Walking together in a spirit of unity and healing.”

The Prime Minister’s deflections came after backbenchers accused him of focusing on a campaign that resonated in the inner city.

His electorate of Grayndler recorded the second-highest Yes vote in Australia, with 74 per cent. However, 80 per cent of ALP seats rejected the Voice.

But after spending 18 months arguing that the status quo on Indigenous affairs was not working, the PM has no alternative approach to hand.

Other political responses

As with the referendum campaign itself, his opponents are moving to fill the void.

Other political leaders were more forthcoming in the face of a political defeat, with a promise from the Coalition to reshape the debate on Indigenous policy.

The Coalition and its Indigenous affairs spokeswoman Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price have policy suggestions ready, many of which would be viewed by progressives as anathema to the spirit of Voice.

Catherine Liddle, the chief executive of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, also known as the voice for Indigenous children, rejected the opposition’s call for a royal commission on sexual abuse in remote communities but proposed an alternative.

On Monday, the group called instead for a national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with legislated power to investigate any alleged wrongdoing.

Greens’ demand

“[We are] calling for that $250 million to be contributed to a Truth and Justice Commission federally so that we can now tackle the issue of truth-telling and get to the heart of why this is so important,” said the Greens’ First Nations spokeswoman Dorinda Cox.

Elsewhere, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Monday acknowledged the clear verdict from the Australian people on the Voice.

“But that won’t stop our (Queensland’s) efforts to bring justice, reconciliation and material improvement to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Palaszczuk said.

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